In the wide scale of human condition, there is not perhaps one of its manifold diversities, which doefr-not bear upon the design here suggested. Virtue is infinitely various. There is no situation in which a rational being is placed, from that of the best instructed Christian, down to the condition of the rudest barbarian, which qffords not room for moral agency; for the acquisition, exercise, and display of voluntary qualities, good and bad. Health and sickness, enjoyment and suffering, riches and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, power and subjection, liberty and bondage, civilization and barbarity, have all their offices and duties, all serve for the formation of character: for, When we speak of a state of trial, it must be remembered, that characters are not only tried, or proved, or detected, but that they are generated ,also, and formed, by circumstances. The best dispositions may subsist under the most depressed, the most afflicted fortunes. A West Indian slave, who, amidst his wrongs, retains his benevolence, I, for my part, look upon, cs amongst the foremost of human candidates for the rewards, of virtue. The kind master of such a slave, that is, he, who, in the exercise ©fan inordinate authority, poilpones, in any degree, his own interest to his slave's comfort, is likewise a meritorious character; but still he is inferior to his stave. Att however which I contend for, is, that these destinies, opposite as they may be in every other view, are both trials; and equally such. The observation may be applied to every other condition; to the whole range of the scale, not excepting even its lowest extremity. Savages appear to us all alike, but it is owing to the distance at which we view favage life, that we perceive in it no discrimination of character. I make no doubt, but that moral qualities, both good and bad, are called into action as much) and that they subsist in at great variety, in these inartificial societies, as they are, or do, in polished life. Certain at least it is, that the good and ill treatment, which each individual meets with, depends more upon the choice and voluntary conduct of those about him, than it does, or ought to do, under regular civil institutions, and the coercion of public laws. So again, to turn our eyes to the other end of the scale, namely, that part of it, which is occupied by mankind, enjoying the benefits of learning together with the lights of revelation, there also, the ad van* 203 tage tage is all, along probationary, Christianity itself, I mean the revelation of Christianity, is not only a blessing but a trial. It is one of the diversified means by which the character is exercised; and they who require of Christianity, that the revelation of it should be univerfal, may possibly be found to require, that one species of probation should be adopted, if not to the exclusion of others, at least to the narrowing of that variety which the wisdom of the Deity hath appointed to this part of his moral ceconomy *. 1''

Now if this supposition be well founded; that is, if it be true, that our ultimate, or our most permanent happiness, will depend, not upon the temporary condition into which we are cast, but upon our behaviour in it 3 then is it a much more tit subject pf chance than we

* The reader will observe, that I speak of the revelation of Christianity as distinct from Christianity itself. The dispensation may already be universal. That part of mankind which never heard of Christ's name, may nevertheless be redeemed, that isa be placed in a better condition with respect to their future st^te, by his intervention; be the objects of his benignity and intercession, as well as of the propitiatory virtue of his passion. But this is not " natural Theology," therefore I will not dwell longer upon it,

I usually t

usually allow or apprehend it to be, in what manner, the variety of external circumstances, which subsist in the human world, is distributed amongst the individuals of the species. "This lise being a state of probation, it is immaterial," fays Rousseau, " what kind of trials we experience in it, provided they produce their effects." Of two agents, who stand indifferent to the moral Governor of the universe, one may be exercised by riches, the other by poverty. The treatment of these two shall appear to be very opposite, whilst in truth it is the fame: for, though in many respects, there be great disparity between the conditions assigned, in one main article there may be none, viz. in that they are alike trials; have both their duties and temptations, not less arduous or less dangerous, in one case than the other: so that, if the final award follow the character, the original distribution of the circumstances under which that character is formed, may be defended upon principles not only of justice but equality. What hinders, therefore, but that mankind may draw lots for their condition? They take their portion of faculties and opportunities, as any unknown cause, or concourse of causes, or as causes acting for other 204 purposes, purposes, may happen to set them out, but the event is governed by that which depends upon themselves, the application of what they have received. In dividing the talents, no rule was observed; none was necessary: in rewarding the use of them, that of the most correct justice* The chief difference at last appears to be, that the right use of more talents, i. e. of a greater trust, will be more highly rewarded, than the right use of fewer talents, i. e. of a less trust, And since, for other purpoles, it is expedient, that there be an inequality of concredited talents here, as well, probably, as an inequality of conditions hereafter, though all remuneratory, can any rule, adapted to that inequality, be more agreeable even to our ap* prehensions of distributive justice, than this is?

We have faid, that the appearance of casualty, which attends the occurrences and events of life, not only does not interfere with its uses, as a state of probation, but that it promotes these uses,

Pa five virtues, of all others the severest and the most sublime; of all others, perhaps, the most acceptable to the Deity; would, it is evi.* dent, be excluded from a constitution, in which happiness and misery regularly followed virtue


« VorigeDoorgaan »